Potty training isn’t the easiest thing to do, but for the most part it runs fairly smoothly – a couple of accidents here and there, a bit of frustration, many hours of potty entertainment, and eventual mastery. But what happens when you seem to have got it all down and suddenly your 3 year old is afraid to make a poo?
Before you go rushing off to play therapy, there are a couple of things you can consider…
If your child is under 4 years old, this behaviour is not out of the normal age range, but if your child was doing really well with toilet training up until this point and then suddenly regressed then it may be something that needs addressing.
Firstly, make sure your child is not constipated. The majority of issues come about because of constipation, which then makes it uncomfortable or even painful to pass a stool. Make sure your child drinks lots of water (they sometimes forget when they’re having too much fun), gets enough fruit and veg every day, and maybe even add some prunes or something similar to her diet for a while. Try cutting out constipating foods like bread, pap, red meats, bananas and sugar.
Constipation can also be the result of being afraid to go to the loo, where kids hold it in for long periods of time. Compacted faeces can cause greater issues, so if you suspect this, follow the guidelines above and consider seeing your family practitioner.
Sometimes potty issues can come about due to strong emotional experiences at the time of potty training. Ask yourself if any major changes have happened at the same time – a parent going away, divorce, death in the family, arrival of a new sibling, even going on holiday can be stressful for some kids. If there is an emotional connection, speak to your child about this, address her fears, lay off the pressure on potty training for a while, and consider doing some relaxation exercises with your child.
The next question to ask is if there are any benefits for your child for soiling her pants. Does she get additional attention (even negative) or anything like that? If there are some hidden benefits to it, you’ll need to address those in more positive ways first.
You also need to look at how potty training is handled at school. It is worth digging in to this a bit, as the school may tell you that accidents and messes are handled well, but in my experience this is not always the case. Address whether it is possible that there was some shaming or embarrassment that has happened to your child, or even one of the other children at school. You need to reassure your child that everyone messes sometimes (even adults) and it is not a big deal.
I would never offer rewards for going to the toilet – this may add additional stress. Your child may be genuinely unable to consciously control it.
Also, never shame your child for soiling their pants. Make sure she knows that you are not cross or upset by it. The less emphasis you put on it the better. Explain that you know she is doing her best and that you are there if she needs to talk to you about anything that is worrying her. And then leave it. Don’t push for information, just be present. When your child does soil her pants, don’t make a big deal out of it. Explain that all kids do that sometimes and it is really ok (if you have a story about yourself doing it as a child then it is worth relating that).
Show your child how to deal with it so that if she wants to she can clean it up herself (give her some power back in her life) – show her how to empty it into the loo, and to rinse her panties in the sink and how to put them in the wash, or however you handle it. She probably won’t do a very good job about it, but praise her for her efforts. Again, don’t force her – only if she wants to be involved.
You could also offer her the option of wearing a nappy for a while until she feels ok to go to the loo again – be careful how you handle this though – she mustn’t feel like she’s regressing or that it is a punishment. Point out other kids her age still wearing nappies and explain that it is normal at her age to still have accidents. Maybe she won’t want to do this at school but may be ok to wear one at home, or even just when she feels she needs to poo.
Also, make going to the toilet as natural as possible. Let her come to the bathroom with you when you go and be chatty about making a poo and how good it feels etc.
You may also look for books at the library or online that can help you to address the subject with her in a fun way. Here are some you can check out:
Try taking this relaxed, no big deal approach and see how she does. Be patient with her. If she did have someone shout at her at school or is feeling stressed because of it, it may take her some time to reestablish trust with the toilet!
Give it a try and if you still don’t come right then consider taking your child to see a play therapist or someone with experience in dealing with these issues.